The Impact of September 11 on Multilateral Arms Control

Article excerpt

On January 22, Jayantha Dhanapala, the United Nations undersecretary-general for disarmament affairs, delivered the keynote address at the Arms Control Association's annual luncheon. In his speech, Dhanapala discussed the span of multilateral initiatives to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and addressed how the importance and the viability of those efforts have changed since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

A career diplomat with extensive arms control experience, Dhanapala was a member of the Sri Lankan foreign service from 1965 to 1997. He served as ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to the United States, and additional foreign secretary. In 1995, he chaired the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review and extension conference, which resulted in unanimous support for indefinite extension of the treaty. He has held his current post since 1998.

The following is the text of Dhanapala's remarks and an edited version of the question-and-answer session that followed.


I would like to begin by thanking the Arms Control Association for honoring me as the speaker at your annual luncheon-my first chance to address the Association since my remarks at your annual dinner in 1996. I predicted then that the prospects for nuclear disarmament-despite the success of the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review and extension conference and the imminent conclusion of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty]-were "not good." Looking around at the debris of multilateral disarmament endeavors, I am surprised to be invited again! But I must congratulate Daryl Kimball upon his assumption of the position of executive director of this highly respected institution and do predict confidently that the prospects today for the Association are good. I also pay tribute to the many years of service rendered by Spurgeon Keeny, who helped lay a solid foundation.

Daryl noted in his introduction that the world will soon mark the 56th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of its very first resolution, which aimed at the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. Yet, two other anniversaries also deserve some note on this occasion. Today, 63 years ago, a cyclotron at Columbia University split a uranium atom, heralding the world's first fission experiment. And a week from today will mark the 38th anniversary of the world premiere of the classic film "Dr. Strangelove," a film some of you here today might recognize more by its subtitle-"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." All these events illustrate the issues on which ACA and its supporters have worked over the years-issues that remain with us and have acquired even greater urgency after September 11, 2001.

The Historical Significance of September 11

The historical significance of September 11, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, will be debated for years to come. Was it the end of history? Was it our entry into the 21st century through a "gate of fire," as my secretary-general has put it? That it brought the issue of terrorism into the forefront of the global agenda-far from being a purely national or regional concern-is indisputable.

And yet, the rest of the global agenda before September 11 remains with us. That includes the problems posed by weapons of mass destruction [WMD] to international peace and security. The United Nations "Millennium Declaration" pledged to eliminate the dangers posed by such weapons. These dangers are accentuated by the efforts reportedly made by al Qaeda to acquire WMD. Yet, there are also other extremist groups in all regions who, in their blinkered vision, can only see civilizations clashing, not coexisting, and who are prepared to use unthinkable methods to bring about the crash of civilization in its entirety.

In the backlash to the events of September 11, my distinguished colleague, Mary Robinson, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, along with other human rights bodies, has warned that human rights should not be sacrificed as we deal with terrorists. …